UConn beats Tulane 67-61 for season’s first conference win
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn’s upperclassmen heard the talk that after two straight losses in conference it might be time to give younger players more time on the court.
The juniors and seniors responded by scoring 56 points to lead the Huskies to a 67-61 win over Tulane on Wednesday night.
Junior Tyler Polley had 19 points and a career high 11 rebounds. Senior Christian Vital (14 points), junior Alterique Gilbert (11) and junior Josh Carlton (10), also reached double figures for the Huskies (10-5, 1-2 American).
“The upperclassmen really led the way,” said Gilbert. “We just played with a lot of energy, played for each other and played with pride.”
Connecticut dominated underneath, outrebounding Tulane 46-29 and scoring 19 second-chance points.
Teshaun Hightower had 17 points and K.J. Lawson added 16 for Tulane, which has lost four of its last five games.
“The game was won on the glass,” said Tulane coach Ron Hunter. “It was a two possession game and I think they had an 18 or 17 edge on the glass. They had 18 and we had 11 offensive rebounds. That was the game.”
UConn led by seven points at halftime and began the second half with a 10-4 run to give the Huskies their largest lead of the game at 46-33.
Tulane cut the deficit back to three with a run capped by a layup from Hightower.
An offensive rebound and three-point play from Polley with just under three minutes to play pushed the lead back to 63-54 and the lead was 10 a short time later after a layup from Akok Akok.
Tulane made one last push. The Green Wave cut lead to five with 47 seconds when freshman Nobel Days stole an inbounds and scored when Vital tripped going for the ball.
But Tulane chose not to foul and a layup by Vital put the game out of reach.
Polley, who was just a point shy of his career high in scoring, hit seven of his 15 shots from the floor and pulled down six offensive boards.
“We knew we can’t lose three straight,” said Polley. ”Especially with the games coming up, we’ve got some really tough games. This was a must win for us, so we did play with a sense of desperation.”
UConn came out pressing and scored the first five points of the game. Tulane responded with a 7-0 run.
Carlton, who was 2 of 10 from the floor in the Huskies first two conference games, hit his first four shots.
A long lob pass from A Gilbert to James Bouknight highlighted a 10-0 run that put the Huskies up 23-16 and a circus-shot driving layup from Gilbert sent the Huskies into halftime with a 36-29 lead.
Teshaun Hightower (12) and K.J. Lawson (10) had 22 of the Green Wave’s first-half points.
Tulane has never beaten UConn, falling to 0-8 in the series. The Green Wave lost he first seven games by an average of just under 10 points a game.
UConn’s Polley, Gilbert and Carlton had each failed to reach double figures in the Huskies previous three games.
“We talked about what you want your legacy to be here,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said. “From here on out, players are going to play themselves into more minutes or they are going to play themselves out of more minutes.”
Gilbert, who also had seven assists, was playing despite the death of his grandmother on Tuesday. Hurley said it’s not clear whether the point guard with miss the Huskies next game on Sunday as he travels home to grieve with his family.
“I just felt like it was good for me to play today,” Gilbert said. “I’ll definitely attend the funeral and I’ll be with my family for a few days.”
HE SAID IT
With two games against Top-25 teams on the horizon, Hurley was asked how important it was to stop his team’s two-game skid and keep the snowball from rolling down hill.
“It’s still a snowball,” Hurley said. “I don’t know how high on the hill it is. But, it’s still there.”
Tulane finishes its two-game road trip on Saturday at Temple
UConn begins one of its tougher stretches this season by hosting No. 23 Wichita State on Sunday. The Huskies then travel to Philadelphia to play No. 16 Villanova before heading to Houston.